Discovery Doctrine and the United Church

At Hon. David MacDonald’s Tuesday morning seminar this week, the final one of his summer series, the topic was “Is Reconciliation Possible? Why do we need to unsettle the settler?”

As part of his introduction to the topic, David played an excerpt from a speech by The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Moderator of the United Church of Canada.

In her speech, Cantwell discusses the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by the Church; by way of example she tells the story of the Saskatchewan Conference of the Church, faced with an ideological fork in the road. The Conference holds lands, called the “Moats Lands,” that were donated to it, and that generate substantial revenue from natural resources. How could the Church repudiate the Discovery Doctrine while, at the same time, profit from lands that it owned as a direct result of that same Doctrine?

In the discussion that followed, I talked about how I spend my daily life, in essence, responding to bug reports.

I talked about how, when you spend enough time shining light in the dark recesses of a digital system, addressing its bugs and trying to add missing features, sometimes you reach a point where you realize that the digital system’s fundamental design is one substantially unsuited to the task for which it’s being used.

Most of the time there’s little you can do about this, other than to continue to patch the system as best you can, for there’s seldom appetite for, nor resources for, reconceiving of systems in a substantial way (and, when there is, such efforts often fail on an epic scale).

I characterized the United Church’s Moats Lands conundrum as a “bug” in the Church’s system, one that was ultimately (at least partially) patched by a decision to redirect the revenue from the lands to aboriginal hands.

The larger question, though, is whether the United Church, and everything it represents as a proxy for progressive western Christianity, is a system that can continue to be patched (with regard to Discovery Doctrine), or whether the very basis upon which the Church exists is based on a fundamentally broken set of assumptions.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s worth asking; Cantwell’s words suggests, in fact, that the Church is asking itself these questions, and in that there is hope.